It’s amazing in life how some things come full circle. I was recently back home again in Indiana, (pun intended), and was so excited to make a trip to Twinrocker Paper in Brookston, Indiana. Brookston is about a half hour drive from where I grew up, and I passed the turn off to go there every time I made a trip home from Purdue during my college days. Little did I know that years later I would become a watercolor artist and fall in love with the watercolor paper they make! A couple of years ago my mom and I visited the studio of Terry Armstrong, an Indiana artist who lives in Warsaw. He told us about Twinrocker, which he uses for his work. The next day we drove to Brookston, and bought some watercolor paper. If you buy $100 worth they offer free shipping! I had never heard of this amazing company until Terry had mentioned it, and couldn’t believe all these years I was so close and had never been there! I took a chance that I would like it, invested in $100 worth and had it sent to me here in Florida.
Once I started using it was I ever glad I took the chance. I have experimented with it and used it the last couple of years and if I prefer a certain look for a painting, I use Twinrocker. My painting Mayan Gate was done on the Twinrocker cold press and has been juried into four shows, two of them were International Exhibitions.
Since Kathryn and Howard Clark founded Twinrocker in 1971 they have been making handmade paper in the European tradition, for stationary, book arts and watercolor. Kathryn has sinceretired, and nowTravis Becker isthe current owner and master paper maker. He started working with the Clarks when he was 19. I highly encourage you to visit their web site to read the fascinating history behind how the Clarks started making paper.
On my visit I met with Travis and he showed me around a bit. This is a small facility with 4 employees: Gail is the Office Manager, Fran, Customer Service, Travis, Owner & Master Papermaker, and Gerald, Papermaker. Travis and Gerald make all the paper molded and finished, entirely by hand using pre consumer waste cotton from United States manufacturers.
The day I was there Gerald was molding envelopes and Travis was going through a stack of watercolor paper about 6 inches high that had been molded and run through the press. Each sheet was layered between felt and after its run through the press it is removed from the felt, inspected for imperfections and stacked to dry before it can be gelatin sized.
Each watercolor sheet is then gelatin sized by hand. Once they have a large quaintly of paper made they will spend a day or two doing nothing but sizing. The sheet goes through the sizing, maintained at a constant temperature, one at a time, and then Gerald and Travis rub each sheet, both sides, by hand, to smooth out the sizing and remove air bubbles. This is critical if there are any air pockets where the sizing isn’t adhered to thepaper it will show once paint is put to paper. I was in awe of this whole process. I am so appreciative that there are still craftsman like Travis and Gerald that are producing a product like this that is more than special.
Every time I start a painting on Twinrocker I feel a reverence toward it before I put brush to paper. I feel even more so now after visiting and seeing how much care and attention is put into each sheet. What boggles my mind in addition to the process and care of production, is the science that goes into creating the different weights and surface textures. They offer hot press, cold press, and rough surfaces, and different weights or more accurately for them thicknesses. Since the paper is handmade it can vary slightly in thickness from sheet to sheet. Therefore they don't describe their paper in weight like the other watercolor paper companies, but by the thickness per sheet measured by a micro meter, to arrive at a thousands of an inch thickness and is assigned a letter code. All of this is described on their web site. HA which stands for heavy art weight (HA) is roughly a 250lb./460g/m2 paper.
Twinrocker has been available by two major retailers, but Travis told me starting next year they will only be selling paper through their web site. The reason being, It hasn’t been fair to Twinrocker to give the retailers a big discount, they have done little or no marketing or promotion for them, in exchange for the discount, and then sell the paper cheaper per sheet than what Twinrocker sells it for directly from their site, essentially undercutting Twinrocker on price.
Because it is handmade, it is more expensive than some papers. It retails at $14 per sheet. This is only $2 more retail than a sheet of 300 lb Arches, which I use as well, but in my opinion is so worth it. If you paint in watercolor, I encourage you to try this paper! It has been mostly by word of mouth that this watercolor paper has endured in the market place since 1971. Not only will you be painting on one of the most beautiful papers made today, you will be supporting, a small independent company, with just 4 employees, two of them master craftsmen that are carrying on a tradition that could become a lost art if they weren't doing it. And to top it all off, it’s entirely made in the USA! No other watercolor paper on the market today has that distinction!
I want to thank Travis for taking the time to show me around and it’s my privilege to spread the word about Twinrocker. This is some what self serving, I love this paper so much I want them to be successful and keep making it!
A Side Note: Recently at the Florida Watercolor society convention, I came acrossa new paper on the market, Fluid 100 which claims to be made in the USA. However, I was told by the representative at the show selling the paper, that it is actually made in Europe but finished in the USA. Because the last step of production is in the United Sates, they can put made in the USA on the product. However, it’s not entirely true.